Behemoth Frontman Nergal: ‘Art is the Best Weapon’
Polish death metal band’s vocalist-guitarist on why music matters, their India debut this month at Deccan Rock and more
What’s the biggest draw for a seasoned man of metal like Adam Darski aka Nergal to visit India? A trip to Varanasi, of course. Nergal, the vocalist-guitarist of Poland’s blackened death metal band Behemoth, says over the phone, “At this very moment, I’m also reading a book called Shantaram, about India and it’s awesome. It’s pretty inspiring. I’m dying to arrive there for the first time.”
With Behemoth, Nergal will finally arrive here after several years of deals that fell through, including one that got jinxed due to sponsorship issues in 2012. The band will promote their latest album, 2014’s The Satanist, a pummeling collection of nine tracks that elevated the band to metal super stardom. The album came in the wake of Nergal’s year-long battle with leukemia, during which Behemoth was put on hold. His recovery and the experience that fueled The Satanist is part of why Nergal is considered one of the best frontmen in metal, and Behemoth, one of the best live acts.
The band will perform The Satanist in its entirety at their India debut at the fourth edition of metal festival Deccan Rock, which takes place in Hyderabad on September 24th. In this exclusive interview with ROLLING STONE India, Nergal talks about making artistic metal, never bowing to opposition and his solo project, Me and That Man, which showcases his blues and folk influences.
How has the festival season been so far?
We’re flying to Mexico, and then we go to Bloodstock, which are both going to be amazing. It’s a good summer, it’s a busy summer. Things are happening. The band stays busy. We’re super excited about coming down to India. It’s been a fairly busy year for Behemoth even though The Satanist is now two years old. When does an album’s song get too tiring for you to play over and over? The thing with The Satanist is that we think it’s a very importantÂ and unique record. There’s no better time than now to do it, when the record is still fresh, it’s still selling and people still refer to it and talk about it. So we decided that is what must be done. We dedicated all of 2016 for this project and it’s going great. People love that idea and that’s what we’ll be presenting in India too. That’s what we’re doing with the summer festivals too.
It’s quite the opposite [of tiring]. It feels so refreshing, it feels awesome. I love playing The Satanist from start to finish, because for us, as performers, it’s one of the best options for us right now. We’ll see about the next record, but so far it’s amazing.
Both the mainstream and the metal community consider Behemoth as a band that have turned metal into an art form. There’s always a high level of aesthetic quality in your music and visual presentation ”“ whether on stage or in videos. Was that the aim all along?
I don’t know, man. I realize that we’re artists and we create and perform art. I know it’s radical and I know heavy music has never been considered art… The essence of art should be to stimulate people. This is the best weapon and tool for me that corresponds with the universe. I don’t know”¦ [laughs]. I just do it. This is my chance. If it’s art or not, it’s metal for sure, so I don’t care.
You mentioned in an earlier interview about how the Polish metal scene was once ridiculing your music. From what you’ve seen, do bands in Poland treat each other better now?
Yeah, we’re grownups now. We’re not kids any more. Back in the Nineties, when we were 18, 19 or like even 25 years old, we were still kids, you know? We didn’t know shit about the world. Behemoth had that stupid phase. A lot of bands around us, they’re not kids anymore either… I’d definitely say that we have way better relations in the scene than we had back in the day. That’s for sure.
The bigger opposition, as we know, comes from the government and the religious people in Poland. Have you ever been able to convince them that what you do is not about necessarily hurting or offending religious sentiments?
Well, maybe. Some of them, yes, some of them, probably not. I don’t really care. I never became an artist to explain myself. It’s stupid to explain yourself. Art is to inform and explore and to be performed. Artists should shut the fuck up and they should perform their art and spread the word around. That’s it. How it’s going to be interpreted is another story, but I can’t really take responsibility for how people are going to react to it. I just need to do my part and I need to do it well. Talking about it, explaining myself””it just feels humiliating. They’re never going to get it anyway.
What’s next for Behemoth in terms of future material?
Honestly, it’s quite too early to project the future. I’d say that we won’t be coming back with the next record until 2018. You guys have just got to stay patient. We don’t know if we’ll hit upon something meaningful earlier, but if we do, we’ll spread the word. It’s way too early to talk about it.
You’ve also been working on your solo album for about a year or so now ”“ when is that coming out?
It’s going to come out in early 2017. The band is called Me and That Man and it’s all my own music. It’s very bluesy, very folksy and like country music. But it’s dark. It’s a new thing for me. I’m very excited about it. It’s sounding totally the opposite to what I’ve done all these years. It feels refreshing.
“Artists should shut the fuck up and they should perform their art and spread the word around. That’s it. How it’s going to be interpreted is another story.”
What kind of influences are you channeling on your solo album?
I’d say that if you’re a fan of artists like Nick Cave, Neil Young and Johnny Cash and stuff like The Clash, there’s a chance you’ll like it.
Behemoth has been trying to come down to India for a while now ”” you even came pretty close a few times, in 2012, for example…
It’s been like years now that we’ve been dealing with promoters and I’m really happy that it’s finally happening and I’m excited. I’ve been kind of jealous, you know, when my friends from Vader and Decapitated go to India. They manage to do it and I’m like, “Fucking hell!” It was a bummer. Is the itinerary still being prepared? Apart from playing the show, will you be traveling around as well? Yeah, I’m actually really excited about it. I’m planning to visit India a week prior to our show. I want to go to Varanasi and spend time there. I just want to maybe explore the city and stuff.
You’ve been playing The Satanist in its entirety at some shows, but festival sets are always different, right? Any hint about what you’ll be preparing for India?
I think that’d be the best””to present The Satanist in full and do like an encore or second part of the show, with a bunch of Behemoth evergreens that we always like to play. I think that’s the best option.
Is it ever a concern when you come to a country for the first time with your music, you’re not sure what might happen? You don’t know if cops will bust in or you’ll be stopped at the airport ”“ is that always at the back of the band’s mind?
No, I don’t think about it. I hope it’s going to be smooth.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Let’s just leave the best for our arrival. I can’t wait to experience India. Let’s just make a great show together. I hope everybody comes down and experience it with us.
This interview appears in the September 2016 issue of ROLLING STONE India.Â
Behemoth performs at Deccan Rock IV on September 24th at Geo Garden, Leonia Holistic Destination, Hyderabad. Event details here.